(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
Splash Brothers Take On the World
by Brian Witt
This article will be featured in an upcoming edition of Warriors Gameday Magazine.
It’s not every day you receive a gold medal, let alone earn it with the same guy you’ve shared a backcourt with for the better part of the last three years. Yet there Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson stood, side-by-side on the podium following Team USA’s win over Serbia in the gold medal game at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. As those gleaming medals were draped around their necks, it was impossible to ignore the transformation they had undergone. They weren’t just the Splash Brothers anymore. They were World Champions.
The path to gold was not easy. Although Team USA pushed through opponent after opponent on its way to a perfect 9-0 record in the tournament, this was the World Cup. As in, the best basketball the world has to offer. Despite Team USA’s status as the undisputed global powerhouse, now riding an international win streak of 63 consecutive games (45 in official FIBA events and 18 in exhibition play), it’s not like the opposition was laying down. Everyone wants to knock off the top dog. But Team USA’s overwhelming supply of talent and depth at nearly every position proved far too much to overcome for anyone in its path, as indicated by the average margin of victory of 33 points. In fact, one could argue that facing the world’s best was actually the easy part. Only 12 players made the Team USA roster, and there’s no shortage of applicants. Even with guaranteed roster locks such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love declining to participate, the competition simply to make the squad was fierce. How fierce you ask? Put it this way: NBA standouts like Damian Lillard, John Wall and Chandler Parsons didn’t even make the cut.
The journey to that podium lasted nearly two months and took the Warriors backcourt duo across the United States before heading to Spain to represent their country. In late July, 19 Team USA hopefuls convened in Las Vegas for the Men’s National Team training camp, a four-day gathering where the foundations for a World Championship were laid. Those 19 players were joined by 13 members of the USA Men’s Select Team, a group of the game’s most promising young players chosen to train with the National Team, including Warriors forwards Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. Following training camp and the concluding intrasquad scrimmage, the list of 19 was pared to 16 finalists, the Splash Brothers among them, who traveled to Chicago for several international scrimmages. Halfway through August, Curry and Thompson reconvened with the National Team in Chicago for their exhibition game against Brazil and now-teammate Leandro Barbosa. Although Team USA prevailed 95-78, the Brazilian roster full of NBA players gave the Americans a run for their money, keeping things close for most of the game. But after the Brazilians had trimmed the U.S. lead to five, Thompson hit a clutch three-pointer to stem the tide, and the Americans never looked back. Although it was just three points on the scoreboard, it was one of the earliest examples of Thompson’s breakout performance throughout the tournament, and the National Team brass took notice. “He’s terrific. He’s terrific,” assistant coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The way he plays, he has the ability to make any team better. He can shoot it, he can defend, he can play multiple positions, he can guard point guards.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo echoed those sentiments: “I don’t think you can ever have too many shooters on the team, especially in international play, and Klay can just flat out knock it down.”
From there, Team USA continued on to New York City to round out its exhibition schedule against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, both American victories. Curry was particularly impressive in the win over the Puerto Ricans, leading all scorers with 20 points on six-of-seven shooting.
The following day, Curry and Thompson were officially selected to the 12-man World Cup roster, marking the first time two Warriors players were simultaneously on the U.S. Senior National Team. The next stop on their journey was Spain, where anything short of a gold medal would have been viewed as a disappointment.
Team USA cruised through the preliminary round, defeating Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic, and Ukraine. The team’s 5-0 record, combined with its No. 1 seed, pitted the United States against Mexico in the Round of 16, where Stephen Curry scored a team-high 20 points in an 86-63 victory. Twenty was the magic number once again in the following round, but this time it was Thompson’s turn. He scored a game-high 20 points in a 119-76 blowout of Slovenia in the quarterfinals, advancing Team USA to the semifinals to face off against Lithuania. The Splash Brothers scored a combined 29 points in a 96-68 win to advance to the finals against Serbia.
In the gold medal game, Team USA distanced itself from Serbia early with a 28-6 run to close the first quarter. With a dominant 129-92 victory, the United States became just the third country in FIBA World Cup history to capture consecutive titles. With the championship, the USA earned an automatic bid to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Thompson finished second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.7 points per game, while he and Curry combined to hit 43 three-pointers, more than any duo in the tournament.
“It feels great. Words can’t describe it. I can’t wait to go home and celebrate. I’m so excited, especially on the world stage,” said Thompson. “Next up is an Olympic gold medal and an NBA Championship. If I get all three of those, you can’t get any better than that.”
You have to admire his ambition. Team USA will enter the Olympics as the prohibitive favorite, and Curry and Thompson could very well have another gold medal around their necks. But even that won’t satisfy them for long, and for the Warriors and their fans, that’s undoubtedly a good thing. As the saying goes, good things come in threes. For the Splash Brothers, what could be more appropriate?